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Faded Glory

I have a friend who, ten years ago, won a murder case in a small southern town. It was, he has claimed ever since, the first time ever a black man had been acquitted of murder by a jury in that county. I don’t know whether the claim is true; it’s not entirely outlandish.

When a plaintiff’s lawyer gets a good verdict for his client, you’ll often see him trying to turn it into a record—”biggest verdict for this sort of case for this sort of plaintiff against this sort of defendant in this county while wearing purple socks.”

What is it that makes us want our wins—viscerally satisfying in their own right—into records for the books? Are we trying to create the illusion that anyone but us and our clients’ families will care or even remember 20 years from now? Are we following some deep-seated impulse to give our victories as much meaning for others as they have for us? I see no harm in it, but I wonder: Is it normal? Neurotic?

Who’s to say that a lawyer shouldn’t define himself in terms of his successes at a lawyer? Sure, if a lawyer defines himself by his wins, there’s the danger of crushed self-esteem when he hits a run of bad luck. But we all define ourselves somehow.

My friend who won the murder trial is still talking about it. It’s hard for anyone to meet him without learning about it. It was the highlight of his career, and therefore of his life.

Even before he was disbarred (he had a career-ending run of bad luck), it was a little embarrassing.

While it might awe unsophisticated clients, lawyers’ self-talk doesn’t impress other lawyers. The quiet professional is more admired by his peers than the swaggering blowhard. Lawyers who brag on themselves are objects more of fun than of admiration.

This is especially true ten years after the defining moment. But even when the win is fresh, a lawyer gets more credibility with his cohort by acting—like Darrell Royal said—like he’s been there before.

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  1. I agree completely. The other thing I’ve seen, twice now, is at the very moment of the judge reading the words “not guilty” the defense lawyer punching the air, a little rabbit punch, and hissing “Yeesss.” Both times by younger lawyers, unsurprisingly, but both female.
    Everyone likes winning and no one likes losing, but I see those responses, like bragging afterwards, as unprofessional.


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